“Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” (Philippians 2:14-15b)
As I look at these verses with an eye to Advent and Christmas, my thoughts linger on the phrase “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” The epistle to the Philippians was written around 62 C.E which means that the generation referred to would be Jesus’ generation or the one that would have been born of his contemporaries of the time. And what I am wondering is, what kind of a world was the infant Jesus sent into? We sing “Holy Infant, so tender and mild, sleep in Heavenly peace” when the world outside the stable door is in chaos and turmoil.
Chaos and turmoil were not a part of the Christmases from my childhood. Christmases from my childhood center on memories of quiet snowy nights when the only noise was the hushed sound of the snowfall. It was truly a silent night when all the world stopped in wonder at the birth of the Christ child. But that is not a world that Paul is describing in these verses. Neither is it the world that we live in.
Incorporating the world of my childhood into what is my reality now is as much of a strain as trying to find in the above verses Advent as it is presented in church.. But then the time of Jesus’ birth is not as idyllic as Advent now. The baby Jesus was born to an unmarried couple who were part of a group of people who were oppressed and downtrodden. Joseph, we are told, had no choice but to travel a great distance to be counted by the government who were ruling and riding rough-shod over. Many in temple class had succumb to the allure of corruption in the Roman government. Others were rebellions who were trying to overthrow the government. It was a turbulent and troubled time, or as Paul says, a crooked and perverse generation or the seeds of such a generation.
And even Christmas as we know it is a construct. It is a day that has been assigned this honor based on the celebration of Roman and ‘pagan’ traditions at this same time, and an attempt by Christian authorities to redeem and reform this period of time. (I was shocked to read the practices that were sometimes a part of the winter solstice.) The beginnings of Christmas were, for the Christians at that time, an attempt to find faith in the midst of a ‘crooked and perverse generation’.
The good news is that the re-forming of this season has succeeded. And the memories of the Christmases of my childhood are a mark of that success. While commercialization may threaten to overshadow the Advent and Christmas season, the ‘real meaning of Christmas’ is still strong and looks to remain so. But the ‘real meaning of Christmas’ does not come from the circumstances of Christ’s birth. It is what we do with the in-breaking of the Christ Child who grew to be the Messiah who came to show the world a better way. The way of quiet days and nights of peace, and not the tumultuous, oppressive, crooked, and perverted world we wake up to every day. We have one day of peace, Christmas. Now, we just have to be as caring, compassionate, and giving the rest of the year.
It is hard to be in one world and yearn for the other. But it is the way Christianity is lived out. The ‘world’ stops for one day to be at peace, or at least as close to peace as we can get. And then, the next day it is back to the way things were before. I think that is way I am loathe to take down the Christmas decorations; I want that quiet peace to continue. I want to hold on to it as much and as long as I can. I know the crookedness and perversion that Paul speaks of. And I want more than one day away from it.
May you at this season of the year find the peace of Christmas in your heart and in your home. And may the Christ child be the ‘birth’ of that peace and may it grow all year long. Selah!